How to Take Monoprinting to the Next Level in the Art Room

Editor’s Note: Today I’d like to introduce the newest member of the AOE Writing Team, Wynita Harmon! Wynita teaches elementary art in Plano, TX and provides her students with lots of choice in order to develop their creative thinking and problem-solving skills. You can learn more about Wynita here. Please join us in giving Wynita a warm welcome in the comment section!

Creating monoprints is a magical experience for students and one of the most popular activities in my art studio. The abstract nature of the results and the engaging process keep students coming back again and again. I find great pleasure in watching my students experiment, as they are so excited to see their resulting masterpieces!

Each monoprint comes out beautifully unique.

In my room, we use Gelli plates. They are user-friendly and the possibilities really are endless. Of course, you can display the finished prints as-is, but you can also show students how to take their prints to the next level by adding layers with drawing and collage materials. These more advanced processes allow students to enhance their skills while intentionally promoting the creation of mixed-media artwork.

Let’s dive into how to take Gelli plate monoprints to the next level.

Step 1: Create Monoprints

It is important to have a workspace set up or materials already put aside in order to maximize your time.

gelli supplies

Materials

  • Gelli plates
  • Brayers
  • Paper
  • Scrap paper
  • Acrylic paint
  • Wet wipes
  • Stencils
  • Texture materials like bubble wrap, corrugated cardboard, texture plates, etc.
  • Paint scraper tools
  • Other supplies students could experiment with like cotton swabs, cotton balls, aluminum foil, etc.

Once your materials are set up, students can begin printing using the process below. 

  1. Lay down base color.
    First, have students put a few drops of two to three colors of acrylic paint onto the Gelli plate. Have students roll with a brayer until the plate is fully covered.
  2. Clean off brayer.
    After laying down the base color, have students roll the brayer on a scrap piece of paper. Be sure to keep the dried scrap paper as it makes excellent collage material!
  3. Manipulate the paint.
    Now is the time for students to use texture materials, stencils, paint scrapers, or other materials to create a design on their Gelli plate. Be sure to remind students not to overdo it. They don’t want all of the paint coming off!
  4. Pull the print!
    Finally, have your students lay their paper onto the Gelli plate and rub the back for about 30 seconds to transfer the design.
  5. Repeat Steps 1-4.
    I recommend printing a second layer over the first in order to create more complex designs and color schemes. However, depending on your time and resources, you may just want to stick with one.

double print

If you or your students do not have prior knowledge of creating monoprints with a Gelli plate and need a tutorial, you can check out a video I created right here.

Step 2: Help Students Brainstorm and Get Inspired

We all know our students may need a little push in the inspiration department from time to time. Give your students an opportunity to brainstorm ideas of what they would like to create with their print or inspire them with the ideas listed below.

Inspiration Ideas

  • As a class, view images related to visual journaling. Or, as an alternative, print some images to leave out at a station. These could provide inspiration for combining drawing and collage materials with painted surfaces.
  • Ask students to write poetry to go with their prints. Challenge them to add imagery to their print that communicates the meaning of their poem.
  • Suggest students write a list of adjectives that describe themselves. Then, have them choose a few to depict with collage or drawing materials on top of their prints. This would be a great idea to add to a project with an “Identity” theme.
  • Have students respond to a big idea or theme such as Doodling, Nature, Love, or Friendship.
  • Allow students time to do some brainstorm sketching about things they might like to add to their print.

Step 3: Add Collage and Drawing Layers

gelli print with drawing and collage

By this step, students should have a print ready to go and an idea in mind based on their own choice, the inspirations provided, or a theme you set out as the focus for their artwork. Students can add collage elements first followed by drawing elements or vice versa. Both ways will provide interesting results.

Collage
Provide your students with the usual suspects like glue and scissors, but also supply them with a wide array of materials such as kid-friendly magazines, yarn, sequins, construction paper, old books, fabric scraps, and newspapers. The more items they have to add to their prints, the more creative they will be.

Drawing
Students can embellish or draw on their print or even just enhance patterns and designs created through the printing process. They can add text as well. Supply students with broad and thin line markers and Sharpies, oil pastels, charcoal, colored pencils, pencils, and any other drawing materials of your choice. While all of these materials are not necessary, it is good to have at minimum two options.

The final piece should provide each student with a mixed media piece they are proud of!

Final Tips

Although this is a wonderful experience to give your students, it can take a bit of time and effort to set up. Here are four tips to make things run more smoothly!

  1. If you do not have a class set of Gelli plates, you can use other surfaces for monoprinting or set your room up in stations so students are working through the steps at different times.
  2. If you do not have stencils, you can create your own using cardboard, old transparencies, or other scrap materials. Stencils are also available for purchase through art catalogs, at craft stores, or on Amazon.
  3. If you don’t have the budget to purchase wet wipes, you can simply use paper towels and a spray bottle for cleaning.
  4. If you run a choice-based classroom, you can have all students do Gelli plate monoprinting as a skill building activity in rotations. Then, during the following class, you can do a mini-lesson about how to turn the print into a mixed-media piece.

As educators we know that while working with one medium is great, it’s important to show our students how to effectively combine different techniques. In this way, they can become well-rounded artists.

Do you use Gelli plates in your art studio?

How do you promote mixed media projects?

Wynita Harmon

Wynita Harmon is an elementary art teacher in Plano, TX. She enjoys providing authentic learning experiences for her students that promote innovation and critical thinking skills.

Related

  • Maggie Carberry Pasquan

    I love Gelli plates but they are still pretty pricey. I’m hoping for a set next year… In the meantime, you can STEAM up the process and try making them from scratch http://maggiecarberry.com/explorecreate/flipped-classroom-videos-for-gelatin-prints

    • Wynita Harmon

      I understand they can be pricey and do not fit into all school budgets. I got my Gelli plates using DonorsChoose.

      I appreciate sharing the link to make them yourself. That is very helpfuI! I would like to give those a try as well. Great way to STEAM it up!

      • Maggie Carberry Pasquan

        Thanks Wynita. I love that you encourage your students to watch the video at home so that they can get straight to work in the classroom. Classroom time is always too short!

        • Wynita Harmon

          Thanks! It was a time saver for sure!

  • Rebecca Doherty

    I like the idea of them, but my middle schoolers have been such vandals this year. They don’t take care of anything, and have been intentionally ruining supplies. I don’t trust them with something so expensive.

    • Wynita Harmon

      Sorry you had that experience. That is tough to deal with for sure. Are there a few students who have your trust you could try with and the others may fall in line?

  • Timothy Bogatz

    Wynita,

    Congratulations on your first article! There are so many good suggestions here, not only for management and the basics of printing, but all of the extensions as well. Thank you for sharing all of your ideas!

    • Wynita Harmon

      Thank you! I appreciate the feedback!

  • Abby Schukei

    I LOVE Gelli printing! Thanks for these fantastic tips. The printing process is so magical, but sometimes we get stuck and think “okay, now what?” Can’t wait to try this out in my classroom!

    • Wynita Harmon

      I love Gelli Printing too! Love to see how each one comes out. Thanks for checking out the article and glad you can use it in the classroom!

  • Kelly Phillips

    Thanks Wynita! I just bought a bunch of Gelli plates and can’t wait to try this out! I love the level of choice and the amount of student run idea generation you provided.

    • Wynita Harmon

      Thank you. Love allowing my students with opportunities for choice and giving them an art studio they can feel free to explore!

  • janet hirunrusme

    Great lesson Wynita! My students love using the Gelli plates. I think I’ll have to invest in some of the smaller ones for my printmaking center this year.

    • Wynita Harmon

      Thanks Janet! I want to get some of the smaller ones too! So many options!

  • Lacey Cardoza

    So proud of you, Wynita! I am so in awe of you and your teaching skills… & how you have continued to grow over the years! ♡

    • Wynita Harmon

      Thank you SO VERY MUCH Lacey! That means a lot to me. Glad to have started this journey of teaching with you!

  • Kathryn Millett

    Thanks! That’s a great beginning. I have noticed Gelli plates but never found/taken the time to learn about how it all works.They provide a great way of printing. Now I am working to figure out how to find the money for them! I noticed a recipe below, and am going to try a batch!

  • Brooke Gravett

    I just found the absolute easiest, cheapest, and best way to make your own gelli plates, for those of you who don’t have them! Four packs of Knox gelatin sprinkled over 3/4 c. cool water in a 5 x 7 glass rectangular dish. Stir well, but try not to make bubbles/introduce air. Then add 1/4 c. warm water and continue to stir. Refrigerate 2 hours. To unmold, dip dish in a larger dish of warm water, run a silicone spatula around edges, and “flop” your new gelli plate onto a flat surface. You’re ready to print! Keep refrigerated, between uses, with plastic wrap touching exposed surfaces. If/when the plate gets messed up, edges aren’t clean, or it breaks, chop it into pieces, microwave it back to liquid, repour it, and refrigerate it again. Costs about $1 each!
    Brooke
    http://www.smarterbalancedteacher.com

  • Cynthia Quesenberry

    Gelatin plates are inexpensive and once they start to fall apart after many uses, they can be melted down again and remolded for a second round of prints.